UK rejects foreign policy link to terror attack threat

By Paul Majendie

LONDON - The British Government has rejected as "dangerous and foolish" accusations that its foreign policy heightened the threat of terrorist attacks after police foiled a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, British Muslim groups and politicians said his policies on issues like Iraq and the Israel-Hizbollah war were putting civilians at increased risk in Britain and elsewhere.

Thirteen months after four British Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people on London's transport system, British Muslims fear they are being demonised because of extremist militants.

"We urge the prime minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy," said the letter, whose signatories included six politicians from the Labour Party.

But ministers were quick to reject claims that their policies had given ammunition to extremists.

"No government worth its salt should allow its foreign policy to be dictated to under the threat of terrorism," Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander told BBC Radio.

"The contemporary challenge we face is how do we maintain the safety of the British public, how do we uphold the perfect right of people to debate these issues but never to succumb to what I think would be both dangerous and foolish."

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was equally forthright, saying people who blamed the country's foreign policy for the terrorism threat were making "the gravest possible error."

"This is part of a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of life. Let's put the blame where it belongs: with people who wantonly want to take innocent lives," she said.

A suspected British al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan has been pinpointed as a key person in the plot to blow up as many as 10 transatlantic airliners.

Rashif Rauf was seized by Pakistani intelligence who had monitored his telephone calls and emails after a tip-off from the secret services.

"He is a British citizen of Pakistani origin. He is an al Qaeda operative with linkages in Afghanistan," Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said.

Sherpao said his seizure had led to the arrest of 24 suspects on Thursday who police said were plotting "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

Police have been given until Wednesday to question them. One has been released without charge.

Nineteen of those arrested, who were aged from 17 to 35, were named and their assets ordered to be frozen.

Detectives said they had foiled a plot to use liquid explosives hidden in drink containers to bring down airliners flying from Britain to the United States.

British and US security sources believe a UK-based cell, assisted by al Qaeda members, had planned to start suicide bombings on U.S.-bound planes as early as Friday or Saturday.

- REUTERS

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